Improving MapServer: a Specific Example

Earlier this month I made some hand-waving arguments for separating the concerns of MapServer's web application and cartographic engine on general principles. There is now a new MapServer development proposal that allows me to make a specific example.

It's been proposed that the MapServer web app could generate vanilla XML responses to GetFeature, GetFeatureInfo, and other WxS requests, and user-configured XSLT would provide a finishing touch to the responses. It's a nice idea. The early implementation plan was to load up existing configuration parameters with additional meaning. Stylesheet as metadata or something like that. Actually, specification of a XSLT stylesheet for transforming WxS responses has nothing to do with cartography, and nothing to do with map or layer metadata. It is solely a concern of mapserv, the web application. Therefore, let's configure it separately from the Map section of a mapfile. Transformation of a WFS GetFeature response might be done like this:

# The traditional cartographic config section
  # All the usual map layers, etc.

# *NEW* application config section
    XSLT       On
    Stylesheet "/mapserver/xslt/example.xsl"

That's declarative, orthogonal, and crystal clear.